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Putting parent burn-out into perspective

Our children are a precious resource, and parenting them is a full-time job. Sometimes being a parent also can be challenging, tiring, stressful and exhausting.

Being an involved, committed parent takes a lot of energy — and sometimes that can lead to burn-out. But does this mean parents are doomed to become cranky and short-tempered?

Not necessarily. There are ways to save yourself from the burn-out trap. 

This week is designated as the Week of the Young Child. So for all you parents out there who are feeling a little burned-out, here are some simple steps that can help you put the challenges of parenting into perspective:

• Recognize burn-out will happen to almost all parents — in different degrees, and at different times in the parenting process. 

For example, you might have been a saint during the infant-toddler years as you coped with diapers, teething, toilet training and temper tantrums. But now your moody, defiant junior high child is driving you crazy.

That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your touch as a parent. Kids grow and change. That’s part of the deal. Just accept it and hang in there — your child won’t be a pre-teen forever.

• Don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow yourself to step down from the pedestal once in a while. There are no parents who are perfect all the time.

Sensitivity, warmth and understanding all are admirable qualities for parents. But parents also are human beings and subject to fatigue, illness and emotional stress.

While it is not acceptable to become abusive with children, it is OK to be worn out and cranky sometimes. Give yourself a break. When you feel yourself getting close to the “edge,” take a nap, take a bath or go for a walk by yourself. You’ll feel better in no time.

• Distance yourself from the role of parent sometimes.

It’s impossible to remain fresh and responsive as a parent unless you periodically take a break from the job. Every parent will benefit from time set aside to become refreshed and renewed. Unfortunately, the most dedicated parents are the ones who often deny themselves this break.

Your children will not suffer from your need to take care of yourself. Your infant, given a bottle and a loving sitter, will not mind if you go out for dinner. Your 2-year-old will not be hurt if you leave her in the nursery while you attend an adult class at church. And, your school-age child will be delighted to spend an overnight with grandma or a friend.

• Find someone to talk to. It might be a family member, a close friend, your child’s teacher, a parent educator or another parent you met at church, school or playgroup. Find someone with whom you can talk about those things that worry you most. Many times just talking about a problem can make it seem smaller and perhaps easier to manage.

You’ll likely find there are other parents who are in the same boat you’re in. You can be a willing listener for them in return.

Parenting indeed can be a frustrating and challenging job. But it also is rewarding, inspiring and joyous. Minimize parent burn-out by recognizing your needs as a person. Give yourself room — and permission — to be a “normal” parent. Children are resilient, loving and forgiving — and they’ll be fine, no matter what you consider your shortcomings.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. 

lbeech@ksu.edu